I would be lying if I said I’m not overjoyed that the dateline appearing on this article says something other than 2020. It was a rough year, to one degree or another, for all of us. But as much as I would love to view 2021 as a close to the trials and tribulations of 2020, I also know that even though the calendar has flipped, we’re not out of the pandemic-wracked woods yet. With the US FDA approvals of two COVID-19 vaccines late last year, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re still traveling through it.
SARS-CoV-2 wrought so much damage in 2020—economies hobbled, businesses obliterated, families divided, lives lost—that it’s hard to see silver linings. But the fact that the scientific community was able to understand, treat, and eventually vaccinate against the virus within 12 months is nothing short of remarkable. That the two first widely approved COVID-19 vaccines (one made by Pfizer/BioNTech and the other from Moderna) were also the first mRNA vaccines authorized for clinical use in humans is a further testament to the remarkable coordination, speed, and innovation shown by researchers, clinicians, and biotech firms in a time of pressing need.
We enter 2021 surrounded by these rays of hope that the end of the pandemic might be in sight. But monumental challenges remain. Vaccine manufacture, distribution, and uptake are substantial pieces of a complex puzzle that must be completed to reach the 75–90 percent vaccination rate that global health experts say is key to stopping the spread. And the virus itself is almost sure to change as it infects more people, possibly becoming more transmissible or dangerous. For instance, as I write this in late December 2020, public health officials in the UK are reporting the rapid spread of a new strain of SARS-CoV-2 that seems to be highly infectious.
This is a perfect example of the continued surprises this pandemic may yet throw at us. But virologists, epidemiologists, drug developers, and other scientists will continue to band together to study this virus and share information that can help humanity address this and future issues appropriately. In addition to careful monitoring of the virus as it mutates and spreads, I fully expect there to be regular monitoring of vaccinated individuals, further refinement of vaccine, and continued development of new COVID-19 therapies. And I can promise that The Scientist will continue to track these developments closely and provide up to date and accurate information about the COVID-19 pandemic and other scientific issues in 2021 and beyond.
Thanks so much for reading The Scientist. We wish you and yours the happiest of New Years.